Senator Rubio Slams Google Over Internet Balloons for Cuba

Jul 28, 2021
2:58 PM

Sen. Marco Rubio. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) says Google’s business interests, including internet servers on the island, are why the technology giant has not taken up his proposal to fly internet balloons over Cuba.

“They don’t want Internet in Cuba because they think it endangers their servers,” Rubio told Latino Rebels on Monday. “They have servers on the island. They want to do business there. That’s the problem with them.”

At issue is Project Loon, a Google-funded experiment discontinued in January that flew high altitude balloons and projected an internet signal over Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane María.

Rubio wrote a letter in the days following historic protests on the island, arguing that the balloons that established connectivity for 100,000 Puerto Ricans should also be used in Cuba.

“American technical capacity, coupled with the physical proximity of Cuba to the United States and its interests, make providing unrestricted access to the island an attainable and morally imperative goal. Today, U.S. companies stand ready and willing to support this effort with the support of the federal government,” part of the letter said.

A spokesperson for Google told Latino Rebels over the weekend that a key difference between flying balloons over Puerto Rico versus Cuba is that after Hurricane María, Project Loon had the cooperation of the Puerto Rican government.

Rubio acknowledged this discrepancy to Latino Rebels on Monday.

“You can’t fly them over [Cuba],” Rubio said. “They won’t allow that… but with the right radio on them, they would reach, you could add more of a distance on them than what they did in Puerto Rico.”

“I’m all for creating Internet access in Cuba in a way that will work, that the regime will have the hardest time jamming. If you have balloons, it has an omnidirectional signal. I know the balloon is there. I know the signal you come down. I block it,” said Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who like Rubio, is of Cuban descent.

Bipartisan Support for Internet in Cuba

The issue of the internet for Cuba is a topic being discussed among Senate members ever since the July 11 anti-government protests led the Cuban government to block online access for several days.

“I think we have to help create greater technological access for internet access inside of Cuba,” Menendez told reporters shortly after reports of widespread protests broke out on the island. “The regime constantly shuts down the internet when there are protests so Cubans can’t speak to each other. So that Cubans don’t know what’s happening on their own island. So that the world doesn’t know what’s happening on their own island. The only reason you shut down the internet is because you are fearful of your own people.”

“I don’t want to speak for other Senators,” Josh Hawley (R-MO) told Latino Rebels days after July 11, “but there were a number of us who had a call together trying to explore options —whether its private-sector options or options the US government could take— to get connectivity back to the island.”

“We’d like to see it everywhere, particularly in the Havana area,” Hawley said. “The [Biden] administration of course has a lot more tools at its disposal than we do in terms of the various governmental agencies that it has available to it but I hope that that’ll be a priority for them. “


Pablo Manríquez is Latino Rebels’ Washington correspondent. He is an immigrant from Santiago de Chile with a political science degree from the University of Notre Dame. The Washington Post calls him “an Internet folk hero.” Twitter: @PabloReports.